Spt_Wesleyan_tm_8/29, It’s time to put up or shut up

By Gus Bode

The SIU football team is hoping to turn things around this year, but it all starts tonight

After several months of hype and anticipation, opening night of the SIU football team’s season is finally here, and it looks to be an entertaining night.

With the SIU Athletic ticket office selling more than 100 season ticket packages and 500 single-season tickets this week, the stands are expected to be full of fans tonight when the Salukis play host to Kentucky Wesleyan at 7 p.m.


And if things go according to plan, they will not go away disappointed. SIU is favored to defeat the Panthers handily, but head coach Jerry Kill knows better than to count his Salukis before they bark.

“When you’re 1-10, you don’t take anything for granted,” Kill said, “and when I’ve coached in Division II and I’ve never lost to a I-AA opponent, I’m not taking anything for granted. They shouldn’t.”

One thing the Salukis might be able to take for granted is their depth at the quarterback spot. Kill announced Tuesday that redshirt freshmen Joel Sambursky earned the starting nod over fellow redshirt freshman Stanley Bryant and fifth-year senior Kevin Kobe.

Kill said it was one of the toughest decisions he’s had to make in his coaching career.

“I’ve been doing this thing for 19 years and when I lose sleep it, it’s a tough decision,” Kill said. “I think [Sambursky’s] just a little bit farther along. I think Stanley’s closed the gap tremendously. It’s a great problem for me to have because I know we’ve got two young men that can play.”

With Sambursky gunning the ball for the Salukis, tonight’s game may look more like an air show.

Wesleyan lives and dies by the pass and is sure to air it out at least 40 times against SIU.


“I think the biggest thing they bring to the table is they can throw it around, and we need to see that,” Kill said. “They throw it all over the place. They’ll throw it 50 or 60 times. We may be here all night the way they throw it.”

The Panthers averaged 263.6 passing yards a game last season – as compared to 64.0 rushing yards – and totaled 401 pass attempts during the season.

On the flip side, they amassed a startling 35 interceptions a year ago, which led to them posting a 1-9 mark on the season.

Senior Chad Skelton will be under center for Wesleyan tonight after beating out sophomore Keith Nelson for the starting job. Skelton completed 48.3 percent of his passes last year, throwing for 494 yards and two touchdowns.

Nelson is an able-bodied backup, having thrown for 1,024 yards and six touchdowns in only seven games last year.

Kill also made a couple more roster decisions Tuesday when he announced that senior Nick Wafford would join junior college transfer Courtney Abbott as starting wide receivers for the Dawgs.

Wafford beat out sophomore Jason Hollingshed for the job, but Kill said he will use several different formations that could include anywhere from two to five wideouts.

Kill also announced that senior Scott Everhart had retained his job as starting placekicker. He had been in a heated battle with freshman Craig Coffin, who Kill said was very talented and would see his share of action this season.

In his three seasons at SIU Everhart has tallied 30 field goals, just two shy of the record held by two people – Paul Molla (1978-81) and Ron Miller (1983-86).

Everhart has a chance to break the record tonight, having made three field goals in a game before. But if the Salukis offense is as improved as many think it is, Everhart may not have too many chances.

SIU won’t need to worry about field goals if it reaches the end zone every time it touches the ball.

Reporter Todd Merchant can be reached at [email protected]